Polar bear researcher Jon Aars in close contact with a mother and her cub. The mother is anesthetized and the cub is not yet afraid of people. (Photo: Jon Aars / Norwegian Polar Institute)
No one knows how many polar bears there are in Svalbard and the Barents Sea area: The latest count was conducted as late as 2004, but now there is granted money to get an accurate number.
The Norwegian Polar Institute that has studied the predator since 1960 and has a high international level of expertise, gets 10 million kroner (1.5 million dollars) to conduct a new count in 2015.
The period from 2004 has been marked by major climate changes: The ongoing global warming causes melting of the Arctic sea ice that the polar bear depends on for seal hunting and migration.
More Polar Bears than Residents
In 2004, the Norwegian Polar Institute estimated that there were about 2,650 polar bears in the Barents Sea area. In comparison, there are about 2,000 residents in Svalbard’s main settlement Longyearbyen, and 2,600 in the entire archipelago.
Traffic sign in Svalbard: Danger, polar bears!! “Valid for the entire Svalbard area” (Photo: ilankelman.org)
Many of the residents are complaining about “polar bears lurking around the living room windows”, driven by curiosity and looking for food.
According to polar bear researcher Jon Aars at the Norwegian Polar Institute, the population is estimated to between 1900 and 3600 animals. He is looking forward to a new count where the Norwegian researchers will collaborate with Russian colleagues.
Increase or Decrease?
In recent years, the sea ice cover in the Arctic has shrunk. Aars cannot say if the polar bear population has increased or decreased.
– It is not obvious that there are fewer now than eleven years ago. You may find that the polar bear spend more time on land than in the past.
American scientists have estimated that the world’s polar bear population could be reduced to one-third around 2050 – but that the population is not endangered.
The polar bear was protected by law in 1973.
Text modified by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews